Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2018 season. Today, we take a look at which free-agent additions could make a big impact in 2018. Tomorrow, we turn our attention to an offensive line hoping to take a step forward under a new position coach.
As has almost always been the case for the Seahawks under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks were quiet on the opening days of free agency when the new league year opened in March.
Maybe it's just a desire to find good value and avoid bidding wars, or maybe it's the voice of former Packers GM Ted Thompson in Schneider's head—Thompson was staunchly in favor of a draft-and-develop approach in Green Bay—but the Seahawks have rarely made moves in free agency during the first-week frenzy, instead opting to sign players to shorter-term deals in the weeks following the opening of the new league year.
But just because the Seahawks didn't make a bunch of splashy, big-money additions this offseason doesn't mean they aren't expecting big contributions from this year's free-agent class. Value shopping in free agency has often proven to be fruitful for the Seahawks in past years, and after an offseason in which the Seahawks saw several former starters move on, there will be opportunities for multiple 2018 free-agent signings to make their mark this year.
In no particular order, here are 10 free agents who could make the biggest impact:
Defensive End Barkevious Mingo
Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, comes to Seattle as a player the Seahawks see as someone who can help them in multiple roles. A very athletic player, the Seahawks see Mingo as someone who can be a strongside linebacker and defensive end, as well as a big contributor on special teams. Just as Dion Jordan thrived after returning to health late last season, recording four sacks in five games, the Seahawks are hoping another former first-round pick can benefit from a change of scenery and jumpstart his career.
Asked about Mingo in March, Carroll said the linebacker/defensive end could have "A big role. This is a very versatile football player. Just start off with he's got a tremendous motor and because of that he has been a big factor on special teams so right off the bat he is going to be a core special teams guy. We are going to start him at SAM linebacker with the thought of using him there in base defenses and then also as a rush guy. He's been able to be very versatile as a rusher. He's been an edge rusher, he has great speed and a great motor to bring off the edge. He also has done a lot of things in terms of moving in and out and being able to move him around especially in aspects of the third down package, so I'm looking forward to that.''
Defensive Tackles Tom Johnson & Shamar Stephen
The Seahawks have arguably had more success in free agency signing defensive tackles than any other position, having signed eventual starters Ahtyba Rubin, Tony McDaniel and Alan Branch to reasonable, short-term deals. And after losing one defensive tackle, Sheldon Richardson, in free agency to Minnesota, the Seahawks bolstered that position by signing a pair of former Vikings, Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson. In Stephen, the Seahawks hope to have found a stout run-stopping tackle who can play on early downs, while Johnson figures to factor in more as an interior pass rusher. Given Seattle's history finding defensive tackles in free agency, there's every reason to think both players can be factors in the D-line rotation this year.
"I think the two additions—in losing Sheldon we picked up Minnesota's two guys, so we got kind of two for one in this trade," Carroll said. "Both guys played a lot, showed a lot of diversity in the running game as well as in the rush game. Tom Johnson is more of a rusher than Shamar (Stephen). Shamar is a big dude, very similar to the guys we've had over the years. If you look at all the three techniques we have had through the years Shamar is a guy that really fits that role, and we'll give Naz Jones a chance to be in the rotation and all that. So I think that worked out beautifully for us. Of course there were cap issues there with Sheldon going at a big number. We were able to bring these guys in, and you watch the Vikings play football these guys are all over their film. They are playing all the time and that's a very good front and a very good defense, so we just kind of shift them into our mode. They are going to fit beautifully, and it's ironic kind of that it worked out that way, but we just kind of swapped guys."
Guard D.J. Fluker
Another former first-round pick, D.J. Fluker, heads into camp with a good chance to be Seattle's starting right guard, a job he held for four seasons with the Chargers and for part of last year with the New York Giants, where he played under new Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari.
In Fluker, the Seahawks are adding a big, physical presence who they hope can help reach Carroll's stated goal of improving the running game.
"Mike Solari coached him with the Giants," Schneider said in March. "… We're going to be a little bit more power. So we're excited about (Fluker). He's all football. When he came out, everyone knew he was an all-football guy. If you look at all the guys we've signed and re-signed, we know they all have a chip on their shoulder, they have something to prove, and they're all football guys, so we're excited about it. All these guys, every single one of them we signed."
Receiver Brandon Marshall
As we outlined earlier this week, the offseason departure of starting receiver Paul Richardson means there is an opportunity for a player or two to step up and earn significant playing time at receiver along with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.
Joining the competition with an otherwise relatively young and inexperienced group is one of the most accomplished receivers of his era, six-time Pro-Bowler Brandon Marshall. The 34-year-old Marshall isn't very far removed from the 109-catch, 1,502-yard, 14-touchdown season he enjoyed with the Jets in 2015, but he is also coming off of a pair of surgeries, one to repair the ankle injury that cut short his 2017 season and one to deal with a lingering toe issue.
If the 6-foot-5 Marshall can stay healthy, his experience, size and overall skill set could add a lot to Seattle's offense and he could prove to be one of the bargains of free agency. Starting in camp, however, Marshall knows he needs to show that he's still got it even after those surgeries, and he's eager to come in and compete.
"I think the sentiment around the league is that I'm done, and I get it," Marshall said after signing with Seattle in May. "When you get on the other side of 30 and your production slips and you have a big injury, people just count you out. So it was an interesting process, it was a humbling process, to say the least. There were some really tough days that I had to push through, mentally and physically. So for this to the opportunity to come to, you can't ask for a better situation. You've got probably a Top 3 quarterback, you've got one of the best franchises, you've got a young nucleus, guys who are hungry and ready to compete. That's rare nowadays. You've got guys who come into the league with a sense of entitlement, come into the league looking for the fame first instead of putting in the work. So it's good to see this organization from afar how they do things, and now being here seeing these young guys just on point. Sitting in the meetings today, my first day in meetings, everybody was focused, it was all about football, and that's rare nowadays. So I'm excited to get out there and do my part.
"Definitely I used a lot of things for motivation, a lot of things. A lot of guys will get up there and say they don't read the headlines, but I'm a guy who understands the environment. It's humbling. I'm excited."
Receiver Jaron Brown
Sticking with receivers, Jaron Brown is a player the Seahawks know well having played against him for the past five seasons when Brown was a big-play threat for the Arizona Cardinals.
Prior to last season, when he had 31 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns, Brown struggled to find consistent playing time on a team that has long been deep at receiver, thanks in no small part to the presence of someday Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. But even when he wasn't playing as often, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound Brown has shown the ability to stretch the field, averaging 13.7 yards per catch in his career.
Tight End Ed Dickson
With Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson moving on in free agency, the Seahawks had a need at tight end, and addressed that first by signing veteran Ed Dickson, and later by drafting Will Dissly in the fourth round of the draft.
Carroll described Dickson as "a real versatile football player… He's an all-around player can play the Y position as well as the X position where he moves around. Good athlete, good downfield catcher. A guy you can go to in regular situations and normal ball control situations and also down the field, so he's a really, really interesting addition."
And whether Dickson ends up winning the starting job or not, the Seahawks, like every NFL team, will use plenty of two-tight end formations, so the former Carolina Panther and Baltimore Raven should have plenty of opportunity to make his mark in 2018.
Cornerback Dontae Johnson
Presuming Shaquill Griffin ends up as one of Seattle's starting cornerbacks, and that Justin Coleman either keeps his nickel role or moves into an outside starting spot, there's a serious competition going for either a starting job or at least a big role in the defense. That battle will include returning players Byron Maxwell, an experienced starter, and Neiko Thorpe, a special teams standout who seems poised to make his mark on defense soon, as well as 2018 fifth-round pick Tre Flowers. But another name to watch in that competition is Dontae Johnson, a player with significant starting experience.
A former fourth-round pick out of NC State, Johnson started all 16 games for the 49ers last season, and at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he has the size the Seahawks like in their cornerbacks. He is also coming from a San Francisco defense that runs a similar scheme to Seattle's, so the transition to a new defense shouldn't be too much to handle.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski or Jason Myers
As was outlined in the first piece of our training camp countdown, the Seahawks have serious competitions taking place on special teams, including at kicker. So we don't know yet whether the veteran Janikowski or the younger Myers will end up winning Seattle's kicking job, but the winner of that competition will play an important role for the Seahawks.
From a big-picture perspective, if there's a common theme in this year's free agent class, Schneider said it's that this group gets back to what the Seahawks have always looked for in players.
"Just the way we started," Schneider said in March at the annual league meetings. "Smart, tough reliable guys that love football and have a chip on their shoulder."
Also at the league meetings, Carroll said he expects players in this year's free agent class to be big factors. When camp opens next week, we'll start to get a better look at who might make a difference in 2018.
"When you look at the guys who are coming to us—you go back to Barkevious, great motor, physical, running and hitting, special teams guy, Jaron Brown is one of those guys as well, versatile, plays all the spots, got the chip on his shoulder, free agent coming out of nowhere—I think that's kind of what you're seeing again and it's part of the makeup of the style of player we're looking for," Carroll said. "I'm really fired up about that. Even in a different sense because he was a high draft pick and all, but D.J. has been a great passion guy, and he has been a great toughness and physical guy. Those are all elements adding to our game, and Mo (Alexander) is one of those guys too, so I think you're going to see an influence by these guys on the guys already in the program. They're going to be accepted readily, our guys are going to see that they're the kinds of guys we like building our team around, and they're going to be big factors."
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